This unusual documentary cuts between scenes from an animated children’s story and live footage of a group of orphans from eSwatini who’re voicing and creating that tale – and sometimes acting out scenes – under the guidance of celebrated KZN-born activist and storyteller Gcina Mhlope.
The story being told by the children is both an adventure and a reflection of their own lives. Liyana loses her parents, as the children have lost theirs. And she sets off on a rescue mission (with the family’s bull as a companion) when her younger twin brothers go missing after their home is attacked by human traffickers – echoing a recent armed robbery experienced by the children.
The combination of real life and children’s tale results in a film that is beautiful and almost unbearably touching. And the animation team, under the direction of Nigerian art director and animation artist Shofela Coker, has created a visual celebration of eSwatini’s art and culture onscreen that brings depth, beauty and humour to the story.
Liyana, created as an eight-year labour of love by eSwatini-born Aaron Kopp and Amanda Kopp, and executive produced by British-Zimbabwean actress Thandie Newton, is a massive critical hit. It has won 34 (and counting…) awards, including the 2017 Best Documentary Award at the LA Film Festival and Grand Prize at the New York International Children’s Film Festival in 2018.